The UK Supreme Court has ruled that Scotland can set a minimum price for alcohol, rejecting a challenge by the Scotch Whisky Association and two Belgian wine and spirit groups
Scotland has won the right to be the first country in the world to tackle alcohol abuse by setting a minimum price on booze. The Scottish Parliament first passed legislation which enforced minimum alcohol pricing five years ago in 2012, however, the matter has been embroiled in court challenges ever since. The initial plans included a minimum of 50 pence charged per unit of alcohol sold. This means that a bottle of wine could not be sold for under £4.69, a four-pack of 500ml beer cans for under £4 and a bottle of whisky for less than £14. The European Court of Justice later confirmed, in 2015, that Scotland’s plan to introduce Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) of alcohol was illegal because it breached EU trade laws.
However, in November 2016, the Scotch Whisky Association, which has long objected to the measure, were forced to appeal once more, following a decision by the Court of Session in October 2016, which dismissed the SWA’s objections to MUP and overturned the ruling by the European Court of Justice. The law was left unenforced, however, while the Scotch Whisky Association and two Belgian wine and spirit groups fought against it in the UK Supreme Court, saying it was inconsistent with European trade rules. They argued it would have an unfair effect on imports and was a barrier to free trade – and a disproportionate and unnecessary method to protect people's health. On Wednesday the Supreme Court rejected the whiskymakers' arguments, paving the way for Scotland to put its law into effect, most likely early next year.
The law was motivated by "concern about the health and social harms resulting from extremely heavy drinking in deprived communities", Lord Mance, giving the majority judgment for the Court, said. "Any individual life or well-being is invaluable," he said. "The proposed system of minimum pricing was proportionate in the sense required by European Union law." Minimum pricing might distort the market, but it was impossible to conclude that this outweighed the health benefits, Lord Mance said. He noted that excessive consumption of cheap alcohol was a major problem in Scotland.